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Brick Breakdown: LEGO Tower of Orthanc

(Written by William)

In this Brick Breakdown series I review official LEGO sets, from the perspective of looking at interesting building techniques we can all learn from. Today we will be looking at the Largest LEGO Lord of the Rings sets to date, the #10237 LEGO Lord of the Rings Tower of Orthanc. You can also check out the previously discussed LEGO building techniques found in official LEGO sets at the end of this article. 🙂


When you first look at price-tag of the LEGO Lord of the Rings Tower of Orthanc, it’s hard to believe that it only comes with five minifigures. However after building the set it becomes very clear where the money went; this tower is immense in both size and detail. The thing is, since so much of the tower is black, you really need to get in close to see the loving touches that make every level of the tower so unique.

#10237 LEGO Lord of the Rings Tower of Orthanc Front and Back

This is the largest tower I’ve seen in minifigure-scale that LEGO sold to the public. I did see a larger version of the Tower of Orthanc that was about eight feet high; I even have a picture of me standing in front of it. As cool as that was, I think I prefer having the smaller version. We can talk about the LEGO Lord of the Rings Tower of Orthanc for hours; how cool it is, and all the many features and details. Here however, in the tradition of this Brick Breakdown series, we will focus on the unique building-techniques used. Even as far as techniques we could cover a lot more as this is a massive set, so I will just show you the ones that stood out the most to me while building. For the official introduction of the #10237 LEGO Lord of the Rings Tower of Orthanc, along with the designer-video check here: LEGO Lord of the Rings Tower of Orthanc – First View

LEGO Lord of the Rings Black Tower with Will


This is an interesting design-tip that comes from Tree Beard. Without a doubt, he is a fantasy creature who only has a vague resemblance to a humanoid. Yet it is easy to make out his face and recognize him. The reason why this works has little to do with the arms and legs of the character. The key feature is the eyes. We may not realize it, but one of the first things we look for when making out a creature are those little orbs in the head. Partly this is to tell us what the person or creature is feeling. This can be anything from recognition to fear, happiness to anger, and so on. There is a reason why the eyes are referred to as “windows to our soul”. Using the eyes as an anchor point we begin to make sense of the rest of the creature. This is probably why LEGO didn’t take any chances with Tree Beard; they simply printed the eyes right on the tiles that are mounted to his face. Now you can look past all the wood-grain texturing LEGO has built into the model and make out the nose, beard, and general character of the wooden giant.

#10237 LEGO Lord of the Rings Tower of Orthanc Ent


This is a LEGO technique used rarely, but it does appear in official LEGO models from time to time. We see it in the LEGO Tower of Orthanc in the trophy-room. In the left and right corners you can see a 2×2 plate. On top of this plate is a 1×1 round plate and a modified plate with clip, turned diagonally from the small round. This assembly is than sandwiched with a second 2×2 plate to lock everything down.

#10237 LEGO Lord of the Rings Tower of Orthanc Corners

It is important to point out you can use this technique with a square 1×1 plate instead of the round, but it will mean you have to turn it as well to give you enough room. The small round is important since it does not force you to displace any more LEGO pieces around the assembly. The way the technique is used here is the most traditional. It is also the smallest way to implement the technique without altering the other pieces around it. Then when you are done, you have a very seamless angled connection-point that has not disrupted any straight lines.


In reviewing the LEGO Super Heroes Arkham Asylum Breakout (see link at the end of this post), we looked at the mathematical counting method you can use for sideways building. Just to remind you, it translates to two studs for every five plates of thickness. The LEGO Lord of the Rings Tower of Orthanc also features this technique in the vertical tiles to the left and right of the tall barred windows. It also uses a simple version of the technique near the base of the tower, before all the side paneling gets placed on; using those 1×4 bricks with studs on the side, as well as a few other modified bricks with sideways studs.

#10237 LEGO Lord of the Rings Tower of Orthanc Walls

Start with one of the 1×4 bricks with studs on the side, then add four regular LEGO bricks on top of it, then finish it off with another special 1×4 brick. That’s it. The top and bottom sideway studs are now exactly seven studs apart, perfect for connecting them with a plate or brick now facing sideways. This example still uses the 2 to 5 rule, but on a much larger scale. And if you want to make this setup flush with a plate that is eight studs long, just add two plates to the bottom of the first special 1×4 brick. This technique is great for approaching vertical walls in a whole new way.


When you tackle such a large scale model as the LEGO Tower of Orthanc, there are two main elements that prevent a beginning builder from achieving something this big. The first issue is creating a good frame to hold your LEGO creation up. This ultimately comes down to using the largest pieces possible and interlocking your bricks. The second issue has to do with repetition. Too many different details will prevent a building from looking right. This means no matter how much detail you put into a model eventually you’re going to have to repeat large sections with similar or the same patterns.

Buy LEGO Lord of the Rings Tower of Orthanc

Just take a look at the three large panels for the base of the LEGO Tower of Orthanc; all three are built exactly the same, so are the large spires at the top of the tower. In order to vary this concept a bit, LEGO added unique patterns for each level of the tower, but still you’ll notice that the left and right side of the tower pretty much mirrors each other.

#10237 LEGO Lord of the Rings Tower of Orthanc Panels

This need for repetition means you will have to have a good quantity of the same type of LEGO pieces to create a convincing large structure. I would recommend those interested in considering building a large LEGO creation to take a look at the parts-list on Peeron or Bricklink for a particular LEGO set that your model is similar to, and see what is the piece-count used by LEGO. This will give you a good idea as to what quantities you’ll really need for your own LEGO model.


It is surprising what we as humans can look past in order to make out a face. The eyes are crucial in this regard. So if you plan to make a face out of LEGO, make sure the first thing you work out is the eyes. The rest will be helped by people’s imagination.

As for turning LEGO plates, it is a simple way to break up all those straight lines LEGO elements like to form. Keep in mind that this technique is often better suited for angling small light-weight creations like decorations. Of course when you consider the sheer amount of modified plates that are out there, this technique has a very wide range of possibilities. If you need more examples of this technique being used, look at the various spiders in the LEGO Lord of the Rings line. Nearly every one of them will have turned plates when constructing the legs.

Scaling up the 2 to 5 rule is a handy technique for covering large distances in LEGO creations. LEGO buildings are more likely to benefit from the technique, but a very large vehicle may see its use as well. The issue often comes down to having enough specialty bricks for mounting everything.

In some of my early large scaled LEGO creations, I was not expecting how many times I had to repeat myself. Just keep in mind that over-designing a particular section fine if it does not need to repeat itself too many times. But when you are replicating one stack of bricks over a hundred times, you may want to reconsider your design carefully as this can get costly and also boring to build. On the other hand, repetition does make it much easier to recruit friends and family to help put together your truly large LEGO masterpiece.

Buy LEGO Lord of the Rings Sets

So what do you think? How do you like the LEGO building techniques in the LEGO Lord of the Rings Tower of Orthanc set? Have you used any of the techniques discussed here in your own LEGO creations? Feel free to share your own experiences, tips or ask questions in the comment section below! 😉

And you might also like to check out the other reviews in this series:

{ 28 comments… add one }
  • ninja of stealth July 11, 2013, 12:04 PM

    is the picture of the guy standing next to it the thing you buy! if so that thing is HUGE! yay fist comment!

  • ninja of stealth July 11, 2013, 12:05 PM

    I ment to say first not fist.

  • ninja of stealth July 11, 2013, 12:06 PM

    never mind I just figured out it wasn’t 🙂

  • Who is that standing in front of the 8 ft. tall one? The guy who made it?

    • admin July 11, 2013, 1:29 PM

      Jay, that’s Will. Read the article for more details. 😉

  • Kimono Jay-Mouth Of lightning July 11, 2013, 12:59 PM

    Yay! Less than a month till the Jedi defender class cruiser is released!! 😀 can’t wait to buy it! 😀

  • JAY THE ULTIMATE NINJA July 11, 2013, 6:04 PM

    do you have a youtube channel admin

    • JAY THE ULTIMATE NINJA July 13, 2013, 6:24 PM


      • admin July 13, 2013, 6:45 PM

        Yeah, what’s up?

        • JAY THE ULTIMATE NINJA July 15, 2013, 1:39 AM

          Do you have a YouTube channel

          • admin July 15, 2013, 9:50 AM

            Yeah, all the links to the social channels I’m on are in the left sidebar on top. 😉

  • Will July 11, 2013, 7:57 PM

    That massive tower I’m standing in front of won 1st place as the best display at Bricks by the Bay 2012. The design was a group effort by a LUG called…I want to say, “One LUG to rule them all.” My memory is a bit fuzzy.

    It was the biggest MOC at the convention and featured a massive battle at its foot. To give you an idea of its size I’m a short fellow at 5’6″ and the table seemed to only be a couple of feet off the ground.

    So to give a comparison, the official LEGO set if placed on the floor would probably reach the table.

    The only reason I’m in the pic is because I wanted a size reference later to confirm it was really that big.

  • Brick Addict July 11, 2013, 10:21 PM

    Only 2 more months till I get this!!! 😀 this is one of the best sets i’ve seen all year.

    • legosw July 12, 2013, 9:28 PM


  • gid617 July 12, 2013, 10:14 AM

    Great review Will, though I’m not a fan of LotR the set is still a nice one. Somewhat ironically I used the Turned LEGO Plate technique just a day or two ago!

  • Noahnace10 July 12, 2013, 11:38 AM

    Ordered this set last night from LEGO.com!!! I can’t wait!!! 😛

    • admin July 12, 2013, 12:24 PM

      You did???!!! Awesome! 😀

  • legosw July 12, 2013, 9:21 PM

    I love treebeard and wormtongue. that pretty much is why I want it. well, actually the tower is awesome too. but I am sooooooooooo mad that it’s 200 bucks!!!! they’re probably only gonna include my favorite characters in this set in this set. that’s awkward.

    • legosw July 12, 2013, 9:26 PM

      not about the minifigs, about my double “in this set.” it’s not odd that they’re doin’ that figs thing that I mentioned. forget it.

  • legosw July 12, 2013, 9:27 PM

    btw, Noah, you’re super lucky!!!!!

  • Ike July 16, 2013, 4:12 PM

    Oh man… this would look great in my basement. I want it so badly I can taste it!!

    • Ike July 16, 2013, 4:13 PM

      it tastes like plastic

  • radgambler March 13, 2015, 3:05 PM

    Nice review! Keep going back and forth as to whether I’m going to get this one (or two) or not. Have all the other LOTR sets- it’s just, I don’t know….$ I guess. lol

    • admin March 13, 2015, 4:52 PM

      Sounds like you are a dedicated LOTR fan. What’s holding you back on this one? Just curious. 🙂

      • radgambler March 13, 2015, 9:28 PM

        Part of it has been the minifigs- for a $200 set you basically get Grima Wormtongue (ok, and an Ent). I realize the structure itself is the point of the set, but still. Thinking this is the weekend to pull the trigger. It’s phasing out and my personality is such that the minute it retires I’m going to wish I got it. lol. Not to mention the fact that I’d really kick myself if I didn’t get it and Lego ends up approving Minas Tirith.

        • admin March 14, 2015, 9:32 AM

          You might consider buying it now as it is Double VIP Point period until the end of the month, and just don’t open it until you are positive you really want it. I have done this with a couple of sets that I wasn’t 100% sure about, but I also didn’t want to miss out on. If you don’t feel inspired to open the set within a year, then you can consider reselling it (or wait a bit longer until it gets retired and the price goes up) or trade it for another set that you like better.

          I have used this strategy a couple of times with some large sets. One of them I traded for another set that I wanted more, and the other one I still have, but I never ended up opening it, so I’m planning to sell it now as it seems like I don’t want it that much after all. Using this strategy allows you to think about it some more without running the risk of missing out. And it might also end up being a nice investment. 🙂

          • radgambler March 14, 2015, 9:03 PM

            That’s a good idea! Was actually at Lego Store today and picked one up along with the UCS X-Wing. Not crazy about either set but they are both on the way out and like you suggested, I can always sell it (them). I have to say though, now that I have the set in my hot little hands, it looks like a ton of fun to build and, with all that black, a nice looking set when built. Thank you!

            • admin March 15, 2015, 9:28 AM

              Nice! My rule is that if I don’t get inspired to open and build the set within one year, then it will have to go. Most sets I break open as soon as I get them, but with some of the larger ones I wait until I have a chunk of time to put them together. If that wait turns into a prolonged period of time, I probably didn’t want it that much anyway. Enjoy your loot! 😛

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